The alarm curdled in Madea’s ears as she tumbled out of bed. Her fist shot out and crushed the annoying, rhinestone bejeweled mechanism. It was the third one she’d broken that week. Nonplussed, she stumbled into well-worn slippers, scratched her sizable rump and ambled to the shower.

Madea enjoyed her four-day-on, three-day-off work week until the long weekend expired and the work shift began again. Work was repetitive, and that made it laborious. She showered quickly, barely opening her eyes, then made her way to the kitchenette, hoping she had remembered to set the automatic timer on the coffee maker.

Luckily she had. Madea sipped one, then two cups of steaming black coffee. Now she hoped there wouldn’t be too many clients waiting for her when she reported for duty. The wall clock returned her baleful glare, informing her that time was pressing. If she were late for work, the Supervisor would be sure to notice. The Supervisor paid more attention to attendance than to work performance, but Madea didn’t blame her. Their job was futile, or so it seemed. She dragged her feet as she closed her door behind her.

“Lucky you,” the Personnel Manager said and handed Madea a file as soon as she clocked in. “You pulled new client orientation.”

“Not again!” Madea moaned. “This is the third time this month!”

“So file a complaint and I’ll route it through the channels,” the Personnel Manager said in a voice devoid of sympathy.

“This is SO unfair,” Madea grumbled.

“Hey, it’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.” As the Personnel Manager smiled, Madea realized the supervisor was relieved not to have gotten stuck with new client orientation herself. “Oh come on,” the Personnel Manager said for conversation’s sake, “some of our clients aren’t so bad.”

“You think?” Madea grumbled. “They’re whiners, all of them. And they’re never satisfied. That’s why so few of them ever move on.”

“That’s not our problem,” The Personnel Manager said. “All you have to worry about is orientation. We don’t care about customer satisfaction.” She waved Madea toward the waiting room.

This vast, cream and ivory room was graced with tall crystal vases filed with calla lilies. The flowers, along with the satin brocade furniture and the ornate, gilded mirrors were meant to calm distraught clients and soothe the raw edges of their nerves, but Madea doubted that the elegant room ever had this desired effect. She had submitted endless proposals suggesting the ushers who escorted the clients try to prepare them for her arrival, but the ushers never did. The clients always gasped when they saw her. Some even fell back on the brocade cushions, hoping to faint.

They soon realized they were beyond fainting, so they sat up and gasped in astonishment. Madea winced as she heard the thin, young woman cradling a bundle of baby clothes gasp as she approached.

“Mrs. Armendez?” Madea said in her most professional voice, although she knew better than to extend her huge, clawed hand. “I’m one of the Furies personally assigned to handle your case.” The usher, a picture perfect stereotypical angel, exited quickly when he saw Madea.

“Thanks, I can take it from here,” Madea called sarcastically after the retreating angel. “If you’ll follow me, please,” she told the frightened young mother, who looked up at her with huge, tearful eyes. “I’ll explain how your baby will be avenged.”

“Why did the kidnappers have to kill him?” Mrs. Armendez wept. “We paid the ransom!”

“Justice will be done. That’s why you’re here,” Madea told her. “The perpetrators will be punished to your complete satisfaction. This way, please.”

But the thin, frightened woman didn’t move. “Who are you? What is all this?” She asked in a trembling voice.

Madea sighed. If only those worthless ushers would explain the system instead of mouthing banal platitudes, new client orientation wouldn’t be so difficult. “I’m a Fury,” she explained patiently. “There are hundreds of thousands of us. It’s our job to avenge the wrongs perpetrated in your world.”

Mrs. Armendez looked at her warily. Madea saw the woman’s large, watery eyes appraise the Fury’s snaking hair and black, vulture-like wings with evident apprehension.

“Are you an angel?” the woman asked. Her voice trembled again.

“Not exactly. Not in the usual sense of the term,” Madea always cringed when the clients asked this question. “I’m an avenger, and I will not only hunt down your baby’s killers but also their children and their children’s children to the thousandth generation. I will make their lives and the lives of everyone around them a living hell. We Furies are quite good at that, I can assure you,” Madea said when Mrs. Armandez continued to stare at her.

“I…I don’t think I want to see that much justice done,” Mrs. Armendez said uneasily and sat down on the edge of a brocaded chair.

“You don’t have to see any thing,” Madea assured her. “We’ll do all the dirty work. But your involvement is essential, so if you’ll come with me, I’ll show you how your baby’s death can be avenged.” Madea smiled with tight lips in order to mask her long, sharp teeth and gestured toward an exit. Mrs.Armendez hesitated a moment, but finally followed the Fury through an arched door and down a long corridor. They emerged in a courtyard whitewashed with sun. It was surrounded with Dorian columns intertwined with blossoming morning glories. In the center was a wide, oval basin filled with water. The water ran red with blood although a fountain of fresh water constantly replenished it. The fountain gushed from a marble statue of a weeping angel with great, outspread wings. The angel poured two steady streams of water into the pool from wounds cut deep in the palms of her hands.

“All these women mourn lost children,” Madea explained the ring of washerwomen who surrounded the marble pool.

“We will avenge your child’s death as long as you scrub the blood out of the clothes. When the blood stains are washed clean, we will cease avenging.” She found Mrs. Armendez a place beside a Frenchwoman wearing a torn satin court gown who was scrubbing a child’s bloodied dress. “How long has she been here?” Mrs. Armendez asked nervously.

“I don’t keep track of centuries,” Madea told her.

“I have been here since our king, Louis the Sixteenth, was beheaded,” the woman, who introduced herself as a Comtesse, sighed bitterly. “I shall not leave–no, I shall never leave until my precious little Solange is avenged.”

“I won’t leave here neither,” the American woman squatting beside her shook her head angrily. She was washing a khaki army jacket. “They killed my boy in the South Seas. The ship carrying P.O.W.’s was s’posed to be marked so it wouldn’t get torpedoed. That was agin the Geneva Convention.”

“That’s correct,” Madea, who had heard the story many times before, readily agreed.

“They torpedoed it anyways. Every boy drowned or was eaten by sharks!” the woman began to cry, mingling her tears with the crystalline cascade of water falling from the cuts in the marble angel’s palms.

“It was an accident,” Madea said softly.

“Don’t make no difference. My Sam was only nineteen years old. He died alone in that cold, shark infested ocean.” The woman bent over the bloodied jacket and began scrubbing so furiously that Mrs. Armendez drew back in fright.

“Does the blood ever wash out?” she asked Madea. The Fury hesitated to answer.

“You re-stain the clothing with your own blood if you scrub too hard,” she told the frightened woman. “If you stop scrubbing…if you stop wishing for vengeance…the stains come out.”

Mrs. Aremendez stared at her in disbelief. Madea wondered if any comprehension registered behind the woman’s huge, dark eyes that were bright with unshed tears.

Then Mrs. Armendez took her place with the others at the edge of the marble pool. “I just scrub?” she asked tentatively.

“Yes. The Furies will do the rest,” Madea said as she walked away. When she looked back at the miserable women crowded around the basin, she wondered why she bothered. They were content to huddle there, century after century, scrubbing their children’s blood stained clothing and re-staining it with blood from their own raw fingers.

Very few washerwomen ever left, Madea thought morosely as she walked away. The job was entirely dissatisfying. “But it’s steady work,” she consoled herself as she ruffled her black wings and reported back to the Personnel Manager. There was always a new assignment waiting for her, whether it be plague, fire, earthquake, or tsunami. The work of a Fury was never done, not as long as there were souls thirsting for revenge.

Published in Stories